Cocktails are great for many reasons: they’re fun, boozy, and often fantastically fruity, but would you ever call them healthy? It’s unlikely. However, could you be persuaded to change your mind if you knew they contained herbs or superfoods?
We chatted with Vanessa Bourget of Vancouver’s Exile Bistro about this idea as well her latest summer sippers, which include the vibrant-coloured Root Sour — a bourbon/turmeric infusion with cold-pressed yam juice that not only refreshes the palate but also has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
Where do you pull your inspiration from when creating your cocktails?
While studying holistic nutrition and healthy living back in 2009, I was bartending and thought it would be a great idea to make cocktails from ingredients that are better for you than the traditional white sugar syrup and pop mixes. I saw the potential of herbs and superfoods but I had a hard time taking them as supplements, so since most of us like a drink or two, it made sense to inject the good stuff in our social habit of alcohol consumption. The actual combination of flavours came from good old trial and error.
Does your quest to create plant-forward food stuffs effect your cocktail recipes?
Absolutely. Plants are my main passion and area of interest; I strongly feel that the whole world needs to take a more plant-forward approach, to both benefit their health, the health of the planet, and animal welfare. So this definitely permeates through both the food and beverage programs at Exile Bistro.
The traditional egg white just gets a little boring if that is all that is used to create texture and frothiness in a cocktail. Nothing wrong with it, but there is a farther reach and excitement when you discover that some starchy vegetable juices or certain infusions and tinctures also naturally give a drink body, froth, and creaminess. And amazing colours! (Think beet juice red, turmeric yellow, blue-green-algae emerald, ginger gold!)
Do you think there is such a thing as a “healthy cocktail?”
I won’t say drinking alcohol is healthy ever, but it can serve as a vessel to carry good things through the body in small amounts. Think of herbal medicinal tinctures. That’s why I love adding extracts and bitters to cocktails, not only does it give them a rounder or edgier taste, they can also provide some great digestive and circulatory support depending on which one you use.
For me, a healthy cocktail is one that will make you ingest a health-promoting substance that you wouldn’t normally ingest if it wasn’t for this cocktail.
Would you be more likely to take a shot of blue-green-algae everyday or order a frothy algae, gin-based cocktail sweetened with a bit of maple? Or would you be more likely to make yourself chaga mushroom tea instead of coffee in the morning or order a chaga sour in the evening made with a strong dual-extraction of the mushroom and infused whisky? People will continue to love drinking so may as well give the body some recovery and nourishing substances at the same time. One should still not have too many.
Many of your summer cocktails feature detox/anti-inflammatory ingredients, why is that?
Most people tend to be more physically active in the spring-summer months–it’s a great time to make things move and decongest the system. Summer is the perfect time to cleanse, cool, and reset the body to be a more efficient, well oiled machine. In contrast, fall-winter is best for building, nourishing, and warming the body. These trends do overlap slightly and your lifestyle tendencies may depend on your individual composition and preferences, but it’s a good general rule, and most people naturally tune in to this. So you can expect some grounding wholesome cocktails in the fall.
It seems to me that your cocktails are more than just drinks that taste good, they also make you feel good. Would you agree with this?
Yes! By giving your body extra nutrients, phytochemicals (plant compounds), and natural wholesome sweeteners (maple, birch syrup, raw honey, evaporated cane vs white sugar), you are helping your system process the alcohol by not having to over-tax your body for essential nutrients that are necessary for all other normal metabolic functions.
If it takes vitamins to process alcohol, and if these aren’t ingested at the time of drinking, or replaced later in a well-balanced whole foods meal, they will likely be taken from inside the body, driven away from the tasks they were meant to perform in assisting daily functions. This is how micro-deficiencies and full-blown deficiencies can be created and make you feel more tired and also contribute to a worse hangover the next day from a lack of nutrients. So yes, the cocktails at Exile Bistro have more nutrients and can make you feel better than conventional drinks.
Out of your summer sippers, what would you say is the most popular creation is?
Right now the best seller is the Ginger Margarita. Simple, refreshing, and delicious. The perfect combination of gold tequila, house-made cold pressed ginger root juice and ginger syrup, fresh lime, and a salty-sweet ginger salt rim. It really is the perfect summer drink and offers anti-inflammation and improved digestion from the ginger root. A total crowd pleaser, if you like ginger of course.